Herb: Purple Osier

Latin name: Salix purpurea

Synonyms: Salix helix

Family: Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Medicinal use of Purple Osier:

The bark is anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antiperiodic, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, hypnotic, sedative and tonic. It is a very rich source of salicin, which is used in making aspirin. The bark of this species is used interchangeably with S. alba. It is taken internally in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, gout, inflammatory stages of auto-immune diseases, diarrhoea, dysentery, feverish illnesses, neuralgia and headache. The bark is removed during the summer and dried for later use. The leaves are used internally in the treatment of minor feverish illnesses and colic, cancerous sores and chronic dysentery. The leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season and are used fresh or dried. The twigs are used in the treatment of cancer, dysentery and ulcers. The bark of the stem and roots is anodyne and styptic. It is used in the treatment of rheumatism.

Description of the plant:


5 m
(16 feet)

to April

Habitat of the herb:

Wet places in lowland areas, preferring neutral or alkaline soils.

Edible parts of Purple Osier:

Inner bark - raw or cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and then added to cereal flour for use in making bread etc. A very bitter flavour, it is a famine food that is only used when all else fails. Young shoots - raw or cooked. They are not very palatable.

Other uses of the herb:

The stems are very tough and flexible and are used in basket making. The plant is usually coppiced annually when grown for basket making, though it is possible to coppice it every two years if thick poles are required as uprights. The bark is much disliked by rabbits, so a closely woven fence of this plant can be used as a protective barrier. The bark contains about 10% tannin. Plants can be grown as a hedge, the var. "Gracilis" is suitable for a small hedge on damp sites. It can be kept dense by annual clipping. The plant has an extensive root system and is used in soil reclamation and stabilization projects along estuaries.

Propagation of Purple Osier:

Seed - must be surface sown as soon as it is ripe in late spring. It has a very short viability, perhaps as little as a few days. Cuttings of mature wood of the current year's growth, November to February in a sheltered outdoor bed or planted straight into their permanent position and given a good weed-suppressing mulch. Very easy. Plant into their permanent positions in the autumn. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, June to August in a frame. Very easy.

Cultivation of the herb:

Wet places in lowland areas, preferring neutral or alkaline soils.

Known hazards of Salix purpurea:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.